Friday, May 31, 2013

Short story read aloud, week 12

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Michael Haynes, "The Barber and the Count": A fine little problem story / character view: when the count kills the barber's daughter, does he take revenge? And if so, how does he take revenge so as to avoid being killed himself. I heard this on Podcastle, and while I like it fine on the sentence level, it doesn't move me much: if you live in a world of magic, and you use magic to kill someone, why don't the forces that be take revenge on you? Sure, they may not figure our your method, but your motive is clear. That said, this story does a nice job of keeping the audience in some uncertainty about whether the barber wants revenge at all.


Sarah Monette, "White Charles": Starting out as a quasi-M. R. James story--an archivist realizes an old box of books came with a monster (the ghost of a hand of glory)--the story turns into something that reminds me of Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom": the archivist has to confront the idea that the monster is really just a sort of person that has only known slavery and servitude. It's a little simple in some ways since the monster turns out to want to be destroyed just as the main character wants to do. But the language here is nice--evocative of a different time period without being campy.

Cat Rambo, "The Mermaids Singing Each to Each": A thematically rich story about a sex-less boat pilot (she took the neuter operation after her uncle raped her and has a tense relationship with the AI on the boat that used to be the uncle's), the greedy killer, and the man who lost his father (when the father underwent the surgery to turn him into a merman), as the three of them go to salvage a strange accumulation of material. The plot is simple--salvage, greedy guy double-crosses them--which allows the themes room to grow, but it's still a little disappointing in the abrupt end of the plot.

Escape Artists (Escape PodPodcastlePseudopod

L. Sprague de Camp, "A Gun for Dinosaur": One of those older stories about time traveling hunters going to bag dinosaurs. Yeah, it's an old story that might be done differently today, but it's an enjoyable romp with clear contrasts in its characters--the over-excitable rich hunter and the less active/bloodthirsty hunter; the angry judgmental guide and the good-natured guide--without those characters becoming absolutely simple.

Brendan Detzner, "Charlie Harmer's Day Off": A ghost gets involved in a scheme to take over bodies, feels bad about, but still gets his music-loving friend's body and goes nuts with it for a while (even throwing up feels good when you've been a ghost long enough). There's some interesting characters here, particularly in Darius, the music-loving friend whose other great passion is hating the friend who is marrying the woman he loves. Even though it's short, the story is broken up into several sections, which I rather like as it gives definite pauses between scenes.

Elisabeth R. Adams, "Subversion": A very talky tale of a man who comes in to try to rectify his split persons, which he split in order to fulfill all of his many responsibilities--work, girlfriend, cats. Well done in that it avoids informational lumps, but a little light on the story side of things. It would work very well as the premise of a stage play if there were only a little more drama.

Lightspeed and Nightmare 

Carrie Vaughn, "A Princess of Spain": Catherine of Aragorn and teenage Henry VIII-to-be fight a vampire! This isn't actually all that pulpy/silly, despite my use of an exclamation point; it's actually mostly about the young Catherine's uncertainty as a young wife to a sickly prince, who is haunted by a vampire. In that, Vaughn does a nice job of bringing us into the anxious and hopeful mind of Catherine, which makes it more immediate and personable. The vampire hunt aspect is less interesting, though I think Vaughn plays nicely in the historical fantasy realm, playing on our knowledge of how Catherine and Henry VIII end up.

Ken Liu, "The Perfect Match": Judging from two data points (this story and "Real Artists"), Ken Liu has a sideline in near-future thought experiments. Here, a man who loves his Google-like computer assistant first is confronted by an anti-algorithm faction with how much that assistant/algorithm manipulates his life; from there, he's convinced to turn against the algorithm, which of course catches him, which nets him a job offer from the boss of the company, Christian Rinn (i.e., Sergei Brin, of Google). A lot of this story is discussion--Jenny teaching Sai about the danger of algorithm-life, Christian making the case that Centillion is the best version of an inevitable cyborg life. As a story, I'm not sure how successful this is, but as a thought experiment presenting many different sides of the argument, I rather like it.

J. T. Petty, "Family Teeth (Part 5): American Jackal": A man on the margins of society meets a woman on the margins, whose family happens to have some coyote (or were-coyote) curse; so while they try to get away, coyotes hunt them when she gets pregnant. The characters here may not seem very identifiable: the protagonist male remembers leaving a cousin of his stranded somewhere for only a little money and lies cheerfully about everything; the love interest woman has a little anger problem. But because the two of them get along, the reader may be tricked in to identifying or caring about them.

Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project PulpTales to TerrifyStarship Sofa)

Stephen R. Donaldson, "Mythological Beast": In some future where people have medical devices implanted and everything is safe, a man discovers that he's transforming into... a unicorn. What? There's a lot of repetition here to make sure we know what's safe vs. what's unsafe. But the sort of generic top-down utopia (run by computers, with everyone listening) is really turned on its head by the transformation, which is very interesting and unexpected. Lesson: Don't be afraid of some curveballs.

John Kessel, "Buffalo": Kessel tells the story of his father's time on the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression alongside the story of H. G. Wells's visit. Kessel (dad, character) is a science fiction fan, Wells is a man who sees disaster coming. There's very little speculation here, but it's of interest to sf readers since it's about fans and authors. As a story, the gentle omniscience leads us along with these two guys and their disappointments; as a son's story about his father, it's a very touching but not overly sentimentalizes story.

No comments:

Post a Comment